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Columbia Missourian

Mary Alice Shaver was a leading advertising, communications professor and scholar

By Justice Gilpin-Green
October 23, 2012 | 7:12 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Mary Alice Shaver was a woman to be reckoned with.

Whether it was in the classrooms in which she taught communications in North Carolina, Michigan and Florida or the cocktail parties she hosted as president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, she just wasn't someone you said no to.

“When she started as an academic, it was really tough for women,” former student and mentoree, Richard Landesberg said. “She was a woman who was raised lady like, but had to claw her way through the male academic world. She did not have an easy time of it. She was a tough lady.”

Dr. Shaver, a leading scholar in advertising and communications for more than 25 years, died Wednesday, Oct. 17 in Fearrington Village, N.C.

Born on April 9, 1938 in Chicago to Alice Sheehan Lerch and Charles Henry Lerch, Dr. Shaver grew up as an only child in Evanston, Ill. She earned a bachelor's degree from St. Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana in 1959, a Master of Science in 1973 from the University of Illinois and her doctoral degree in 1984 from Indiana University.

After marrying Lee Sentman, the couple had two children and later divorced. In December of 1989, she married Dan Shaver, who is also a professional in the communications field.

Her passion for teaching landed her teaching jobs at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Florida International University in Miami and Queens College of Charlotte.

Landesberg was a student in the masters program, while Dr. Shaver's husband, Dan, was in the doctoral program at UNC-Chapel Hill. All of her masters students were expected to be in the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, and she respected everyone equally.

“I remember going to a cocktail party before the annual conference (for the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications),” Landesburg said. “I was in awe of everyone there. But she didn’t care what your rank was or how many publications you had. If you could carry on a conversation and had a sense of humor, she wanted you there.”

She also had a gift of seeking talent in her students.

“She had decided early on what I was going to do,” Landesburg said. “It was not, ‘will I go off for my Ph.D.?’ It was, ‘you will be going off for your Ph.D.’ She made up her mind and you did it.”

In the end, Landesburg said he couldn't be where he is today without Shaver's mentorship. In his acknowledgments in his master's thesis, Landesburg said: "Dr. Mary Alice Shaver has dragged me, kicking and screaming, from the journalist's world into the academic world. Her guidance, patience and understanding helped me at every step. There aren't adequate verbs, adjectives or even nouns to express my thanks for her leadership in chairing my thesis committee. Dr. Shaver is a good friend and a good teacher."

At UNC-Chapel Hill, she was one of the first editors of the Journal of Advertising Education. A peer-reviewed academic journal, it is dedicated to research and commentary on instruction, curriculum and leadership in advertising education.

Later, Shaver took a position as chair of the Department of Advertising in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University. From there, she went on to become the director of the Nicholson School of Communication at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, Fla. 

But Shaver and her husband still visited Landesburg during return visits to North Carolina. 

''We’d stay up half the night over a glass of scotch and talk about what was going on in the world," Landesburg said. "She was just one of the brightest people I’ve ever met and one of the most caring people you could ever know.''

Shaver concluded her career as the Hamrin Professor of Media Management in the Media Management and Transformation Center of the Jonkoping International Business School in Jonkoping, Sweden.

Professor Esther Thorson, associate dean of graduate studies and research at MU, remembers Shaver's time as president of the American Academy of Advertising and later, her time working in Sweden.

“Their work was fascinating,” Thorson said, referring to Shaver's research about the role of advertising in supporting news media abroad.

Thorson said Shaver was also instrumental in shaping the American Academy of Advertising. 

The author of “Make the Sale! How to Sell Media with Marketing,” Shaver later worked with Tom Reichert, professor and department head of advertising and public relations at University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communications, to update the book.

“She was the president of both academic organizations I was associated with, the American Academy of Advertising and Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, with hundreds of members each,” Reichert said. “Not anyone could have done that. Certainly just someone like Mary Alice.”

Shaver returned to North Carolina later in life, and spent time showing her Labrador Retrievers in several states. Her dog, Sam, earned his Therapy Dog International certification at a specialty show in Frederick, Md. She often visited residents of Galloway Ridge, an assisted living facility near their home in Fearrington, several times a week.

She is survived by her husband, Dan; her children, Jeanne Sentman Griswold (Clay) of Orlando, Fla., Charles L. Sentman (Mia), of Lebanon, N.H., and Erica Shaver of Charlotte, N.C.; and four granddaughters, Allison Griswold and Sarah, Julie and Kaisa Sentman.

A memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Gathering Place in Fearrington Village. The family asks that Dr. Shaver be remembered through contributions to Lab Rescue of North Carolina, 12201 N. North Carolina Highway 150, Suite 22, PMB 418, Winston-Salem, NC 27127.

Supervising editor is Jacob Kirn.